The Convener(s) of a Conference may be the "Conference Chair" or there may be "co-Chairs". In either case, the Convener is the Project Manager for the Conference and has these responsibilities:
- Determine what the goal is
The Conference Team should all know the goal, and be able to express it in a simple sentence. There also needs to be a detailed description of where, when, and how long the Conference is going to be.
NOTE: The goal is different from the purpose of having a conference. (See "Why Hold, Attend, or Chair a District Conference" for examples of the purposes of a Conference)
- Determine the responsibilities of the Convener(s), Committee Chairs, and Committee Members and ensure that good communication between them takes place.
Each Committee should have responsibility for a Function, which involves a number of Tasks. Here is a sample of tasks associated with typical functions and the number of people required to do them for a District Conference:
And here is a more detailed list of key tasks by function:
When recruiting Committee Chairs, the nature of the functions and the number of volunteers required should be considered. The nature of the functions during the planning phase is different from during the Conference itself:
The Convener needs to delegate responsibility to the Committee Chairs, but be sure that they follow through on their responsibilities.
- Determine the tasks needed to complete the project
For each task, there needs to be a description of what needs to be done, a start date, an end date,and the name of the specific person who will do the task. The list of tasks can be generated by "brainstorming".
The tasks should be organized by function. Here is a sample list of functions and the relationships between them:
The functions are interdependant and the Committee Chairs need to know who they are dependant on and who depends on them. Here is a diagram showing dependancies between Conference functions (the arrows show the direction in which most of the information will flow between functions:
All of the functions will be involved in some way in the production of the welcome booklet, (or registration packet). Here is a list of things that may be included in that booklet:
- Determine the relationships between the tasks
Each Committee Chair needs to communicate with each of the others to be sure they know what is needed from one another. This is another opportunity to use "brainstorming".
- Determine the criteria for success
Each Committee Chair should consider each task for which they are responsible and define what is needed to satisfy the "customer".
- Monitor progress of the project
The Convener and Committee Chairs should probably meet at least monthly to review progress, discuss problems and changes, and answer any questions that habe emerged.
- Address risks
"Brainstorming" can help to address risks in three ways: Anticipating what can go wrong; finding was to prevent problems; and finding ways to deal with problems that do arise.
- Motivate the Committee Chairs
Virtually everything in Toastmasters is done by volunters (including Conference planning), so it ought to be fun. People need reinforcement for the things they do well and help with the things that are not going well.
One of the first things the Converner should do is to ensure that a suitable facility is available. Hotels book events more than a year in advance, so the planning for a Conference site should take place at least a year in advance and preferably sooner.
Another high priority is getting organized. If there are co-Chairs, they need to define their roles in relation to the committee Chairs. How are they going to plan their work and execute their plans?
Educational sessions are an important part of most Conferences and need to be planned well in advance. The content of the educational sessions plays a major role in motivating people to attend the Conference. Information about the topics and presenters should be made available shortly after the preceding Conference and publicized on websites and at Toastmasters events.
There is usually considerable flexibilty for the planners of a Conference, but there are also some constraints and these are not always known at the beginning of the planning process. Every effort should be made to define the constraints as early as possible and make them known to the entire Conference planning team.
Some constraints are true for every Conference. Nevertheless, it is a good idea for the Conference Planning Team to review them with the current administration before starting detailed planning.
Other constraints are imposed by each administration. These usually change from one Conference to the next, so it is imperative that the Conference Planning Team review them with the current administration before starting detailed planning.
In District 53, the Conference Dean provides this set of "Guideposts" for the Conference planners, to ensure that they understand their roles:
Specific Policies and Standards used in District 53 are shown here:
Not everyone attends the full conference, and the Registration Chair in particular (as well as the Publicity Chair) needs to know the options available to attendees. Here is an example from District 53:
- Time Constraints - When Things Need to be Done
Site selection is the first step. It does not need to be done by the Convener. In fact, it is probably better to do the site selection years in advance of appointing the Convener
In District 53 each of the six Divisions hosts a Conference once every three years. As soon as one Conference has ended, that Division can start looking for a suitable site for the next one. A long lead time is required because hotels book their facilities more than a year in advance. The minimum time to start site selection is 14 1/2 months before the event.
The selected site needs to be approved. In District 53 the first approval is by the senior team (District Governor, Lieutenant Governor Education and Training, and Lieutenant Governor Marketing). The site selection committee presents its findings relative to three or more sites and indicates its preference and their reasons. This takes place 13 1/2 months before the Conference. Then, the Executive Committee reviews the findings 13 months before the Conference. Finally, the District Council votes on the recommended site at the Conference 12 months prior to the one being planned. If the site selection begins three years before the Conference, there is no time pressure associated with getting approvals. Six months before the Conference the District gives the hotel a deposit (usually $500) to hold the facility for the Conference date(s).
The date for the Conference is set 15 1/2 months in advance in District 53. During site selection, an approximate date is used, based on previous Conferences.
In District 53 the Convener is named 15 months prior to the Conference.
All publicity for the Conference should be in place 6 months before the Conference. That includes a description of the educational sessions with photographs and biographies for the presenters. It also includes a fliyer announcing the Conference and a registration form which includes meal selection. The announcement of the Conference should highlight the importance of the District Council meeting. If all members of the District Council attended the Conference there would be at least two attendees from every Club in the District.
In District 53 the Conference flyer and registration form are sent to the District Secretary 74 days prior to the Conference. This allows them to be included in the District Council Meeting packet which is sent out 60 days prior to the Conference.
- Program Constraints - What Needs to be Done and How
In District 53 we do not schedule any sessions concurrent with a keynote speaker or with the District Council meeting. We do schedule educational sessions at two or three time slots with two or three sessions running concurrently. In selecting presenters for the educational sessions we give preference to Toastmasters who have not presented at the most recent previous Conference. The sessions need to address one of three areas: Speaker Development; Club & Leadership Development; or Personal Development.
At our District 53 Fall Conference we have a Humorous Speech Contest and one other. At our Spring Conference we have the International Speech Contest and one other. The "one other" Contest may be an Evaluation Contest, a Table Topics Contest, or a Tall Tales Contest, at the discretion of the District Governor. At our Fall Conference we also have a "Hall of Fame" to recognize individual and Club achievements. At our Spring Conference we bestow a Communication and Leadership Award on a non-Toastmaster selected by the Executive Committee. We also elect officers at the Spring Conference.
For District 53, the room requirements for a Conference include a ballroom capable of holding 250 people, three "breakout" rooms holding 50 people each (for educational sessions) and two smaller rooms for briefing contest participants and other uses.
In District 53 we also use tables in the hallways for registration, processing credentials for the District Council Meeting, the bookstore, the Hall of fame, candidates for office, the Lieutenant Governor Marketing, the next Conference, and the free material.
In District 53 we have a bookstore that sells items from the Toastmaster catalog. Only one person is permited to act as cashier and takes the cash box with them throughout the Conference. Volunteers work at the bookstore in one hour shifts. They do not give receipts unless requested, and only for cash sales. On site registration results in cash or checks being given to the cashier at the bookstore. The bookstore also sells discount coupons for the next Conference. It also accepts for bookstore purchases, discount coupons which were awarded to Clubs. A record is made of cash registrations. No record is made of sales. The items sold is deduced from pre- and post-Conference inventories of the bookstore merchandise.
It is important to end the Conference by 9:30 PM. This minimizes the risk that attendees will be driving home tired. To do this, the Convener needs to have a backup plan in case the program is running late.